Best of 2011: What’s So Great About Eating Sunscreen?

Best of 2011: What’s So Great About Eating Sunscreen?

As a former beauty editor, this post from Kathy Magilton has always been a story I kick myself for never doing in the magazine–the use of vitamins to help aid sun protection. I’d never condone throwing your SPF by the wayside and just totally relying on diet, but if you can boost your bodies natural response to sun exposure bring it.

To say my beauty routine is pared down is an understatement. In fact, to call it a beauty routine is hilarious to anyone who knows me. In my defence, I work mostly in gyms as a personal trainer where a full face of makeup and bridesmaid hair would be odd. And I write from home so for all you know I may not even have clothes on right now much less lipstick….pause to let you erase that mental image. The one thing I always do for my skin is wear sunscreen. We all know we need to protect ourselves from sunburn and the skin damage that goes with it and research into the most effective protection continues. According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health “Combined vitamins C and E reduce the sunburn reaction”. Also cited in research on sun protection were tocopherols and phenols. Okeedoke, now to locate a sunscreen that contains those ingredients, right? Oh no my friend, it gets better…..turns out your family can literally eat their sunscreen.

In the NIH study and others like it, scientists have examined the effect of foods we already know to be healthy for the inside of the body on the outside and the results are pretty impressive. Scientists and nutritionists have long known that the oxidative damage and inflammation that occurs on a cellular level in the body can be repaired and minimized by eating foods that contain the most powerful antioxidants, like vitamins C and E found in fruits and vegetables, polyphenols in tea and omega 3 fatty acids in fish. Now they’re discovering that those same benefits seem to translate to the skin, increasing the body’s ability to heal sun damage and even more amazingly, acting as a protector against UV rays and sun burn in the first place.

So which foods offer the most UV protection?  Here’s the lowdown on your family’s summer skin saving grocery list:

1.  Tomatoes paired with olive oil: According to research conducted at the Universities of Newcastle and Manchester and presented at the British Society for Investigative Dermatology, study participants were given either 5 tablespoons of tomato paste with 10 grams of olive oil per day or just the tomato paste alone. After 12 weeks, the group eating the tomato paste with oil experienced 33% more sun protection than the group that ate tomato paste alone. Another similar study found a 40% increase. According to Professor Lesley Rhodes, a dermatologist at the University of Manchester, “the tomato diet boosted the level of procollagen in the skin significantly. These increasing levels suggest potential reversal of the skin ageing process. This is in addition to the significant reduction in sunburn”. Italian grandmothers really do know best!

2. Tea: Green and black tea contain polyphenols, another powerhouse antioxidant. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported that “Drinking two or more cups of either black or green tea per day reduces the risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer by thirty percent”. No wonder the Queen looks so good!

3. Fish: Omega 3 fatty acids, found in all fish but especially in salmon, trout and sardines, reduce inflammation in the body which is why fish is thought to protect against cardiovascular disease. But recent research shows that those anti-inflammatory benefits occur at the level of the dermis too, translating into sun protection and lower rates of skin cancers in people who ate fish at least twice a week. According to a study at Baylor University School of Medicine in Texas, “there is strong circumstantial evidence from both experimental and clinical studies to support a role for omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer”. Might be worth swapping that barbequed slab of beef.

4. Vegetables: no big surprise here, we knew we had to eat our veggies. Fruits and vegetables with deep colour are packed with antioxidants like carotenoids and lycopene and it turns out their colour is actually the clue that they can help you save your skin. According to Dr. Ralph Felder, MD, PhD “plants use colour as sunscreen,” literally protecting themselves from damaging rays and that protection can be yours for the taking… and eating.

5. And before you rush out of the veggie aisle, grab some kale (yes, the ubiquitous kale rears its leafy head again!).  In a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, spinach, kale, and chard were found to possibly reduce risk of squamous cell cancer by fifty percent. Prefer broccoli? Stuff yourself silly! Researcher Paul Talaly, MD, from Johns Hopkins University has “studied the protective benefits of broccoli for twenty-five years” and has found that broccoli sprouts pack a powerful anti-cancer punch. He does point out that, “broccoli isn’t a substitute for sunscreen, but the protection you get won’t wash off in the pool”.

6. Dark Chocolate. Talk about burying the lead story! Researchers in Germany recruited participants to add cocoa to their breakfasts. After 12 weeks tests showed that “the skin of the women who had received the flavonoid-rich cocoa did not redden nearly as much as did the skin of recruits who had drunk the flavonoid-poor beverage”. In the Journal of Nutrition, lead scientist Wilhelm Stahl explained that flavonols like the epicatechin and catechin found in cocoa, absorb UV rays and “this likely played a role in the skin protection effect”. And as if helping to prevent skin cancer isn’t enough, superhero dark chocolate comes through on the side of pure vanity too. “After 12 weeks of consuming the flavonol-rich cocoa, the women’s skin was 16 percent denser, 11 percent thicker, 13 percent moister, 30 percent less rough, and 42 percent less scaly than it was at the beginning of the experiment”. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest confectionary and stock up on sunscreen!

This is definitely not a license to toss your topical sunscreens. In fact, all of the researchers were careful to point out that these food ingredients are meant to complement a good sunscreen, not replace it. But when faced with a squirming child who thinks standing still long enough to be slathered generously with SPF 45 is akin to being tortured, isn’t it nice to know you filled their plate with a little added protection?

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  1. Libby
    June 28, 14:45 Reply

    As a redhead living in Florida, this kind of information is literally a lifesaver! Thanks for sharing, especially for another reason to eat chocolate. (Not just for Dementors anymore!)

  2. Lindsay
    June 28, 21:59 Reply

    Awesome post! Very informative. Definitely learned something new today.

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